According to attachment theory, when children are young they learn to reference their parent or primary care giver for support at moments of both physical and emotional uncertainty and vulnerability. When secure attachment has developed your child is able to trust in your non verbal communication that, despite any uncertainty or fear they may be feeling themselves, that you are confident, relaxed and they are safe. They in turn feel more secure, understood and confident themselves. In action this can be seen in a renewed confidence to explore and be curious about any new experience, despite any trepidation they may feel.
I love seeing this skill in action in the young children I get the opportunity to meet and support in my work as a therapist. There is always a moment shortly after meeting me for the first time, when I am seeking the child’s permission to be a play partner or to chat with them, and they rightly just don’t know do they trust this new person. They will glance towards their mother or father, and if their parents are relaxed, I will see the child noticeably relax and begin to be curious about this new person in their world.
This largely non verbal relationship between caregiver and child is the foundation on which many areas of development will be built. To quote Eli Lebowitz, “As a parent of a young child …..you are the mirror that your child looks into to see who he is. The things you reflect to your child will shape his understanding of himself.” It is wonderful and unnerving to think if your child tells a joke and they look to you, and you laugh, smile or otherwise communicate encouragement they will be more likely to believe they can be funny. Alternatively imagine if your child is facing a new challenge and things go wrong and they look to you, and all you reflect back to them is even greater uncertainty and doubt in their ability to get through this challenge, they will be more likely to believe they are incapable and weak.
With so much power to impact your child’s view of themselves it is important to give some time to thinking about what we are reflecting back to our children.